The Extremely Strange History of SEC Nominee, Mary Jo White

By Pam Martens: February 6, 2013 

The Wall Street cartel that has for decades kidnapped the process of nominating anyone who has anything to do with money and high office in the United States (Federal Reserve Chair, New York Fed President, U.S. Treasury Secretary, Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) or its General Counsel) has a powerful spin machine running full throttle to secure the confirmation of Mary Jo White to head the SEC. 

Take the headlines and story threads that have been regurgitated throughout the business media since President Obama nominated White on January 24. The spin goes like this: she’s a former Federal prosecutor and she’s tough. Here’s how the widely circulated story by the Associated Press framed the nomination in its lead paragraph: 

“President Barack Obama sent his strongest signal yet Thursday that he wants the government to get tougher with Wall Street, appointing a former prosecutor to head the Securities and Exchange Commission for the first time in the agency’s 79-year history.” 

Even members of the business press who eventually got around to questioning White’s conflicts of interest as a corporate lawyer continued to suggest that White left government work after many years as a Federal prosecutor and only then became a corporate lawyer working for Wall Street’s largest firms. 

A correct headline would have been: corporate lawyer with 36 year ties to one law firm representing Wall Street to head SEC. The real problem with Mary Jo White as a nominee to head the SEC is that her revolving door has been spinning in and out of the corporate law firm Debevoise and Plimpton for 36 years. She didn’t go through the revolving door once; she went through the revolving door at least three times. 

When someone leaves a white collar criminal defense law firm three times to work for the agency prosecuting those federal criminal cases, red flags need to go up. 

This is White’s timeline in and out of Debevoise and in and out of the federal prosecutor offices: 

2002 to Present: Debevoise and Plimpton partner, representing some of Wall Street’s largest firms: JPMorgan, UBS, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley. 

1993 to 2002: U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (where Wall Street is located); 

1990 to 1993: First Assistant United States Attorney and Acting United States Attorney in the Eastern District of New York; 

1983 to 1990: Litigation partner at Debevoise and Plimpton, where she focused on white collar defense work, SEC enforcement matters and other corporate work. 

1978 to 1981: Assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District of New York, where she became Chief Appellate Attorney of the Criminal Division. 

1976 to 1978: Associate at Debevoise and Plimpton.

In May 2008, I reported on the fact that some of Wall Street’s most powerful law firms were flooding money into the Obama campaign for President. In his 2011-2012 campaign, the largest Wall Street firms abandoned him and put their big bucks on Mitt Romney. But the President wasn’t abandoned by all of Wall Street. The largest law firms that represent Wall Street continued to flood the Obama campaign coffers in 2011-2012. 

There is no industry in America that is better plugged in than giant corporate law firms. Some have 2,000 partners and attorneys. They know Wall Street’s darkest secrets and they have a Rolodex that reaches around the world. They don’t bet on losers. And they expect a lot in return.

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